The Ultimate Guide to Streaming Music Apps (Including Podcasts)

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The Ultimate Guide to Streaming Music Apps (Including Podcasts)

Updated July 25, 2022

“You turn into what you tune in to.”

I first saw this quote on a church sign of all places. As someone who grew up in the church, I usually find these pithy sayings to be less than helpful. But this one gave me pause.

When we consider all the voices that are vying for our attention, music can be a powerful influence.

While we should have written about streaming music apps a while ago, here it goes. 

Quick Observation: Explicit Content is Everywhere

Marilyn Manson said, “Music is the strongest from of magic” (you don’t have to like him – it’s just a powerful quote).

We were shocked how many of the most popular songs have explicit content. On YouTube Music, 73 of the Top 100 Songs in the United States had the little “E” for explicit next to their titles.

As you’ll see in our streaming music app review below, even with the explicit filter on, most users can still see album covers and song titles. For example, in Spotify, with the “Allow explicit content” toggled off, a search for “sex” showed the podcasts below (yes, there are podcasts on Spotify!). And erasing recent searches is too easy (read on).

Best Streaming Music Services for Teens

So, this leads us to a statement – it’s impossible for a parent to prevent their child from finding explicit music online if they really want to find it.

Other quick observations:

  • All streaming music apps below are available for both Android and iOS.
  • Family Plans cost anywhere from $14.99 to $16.99 depending on the service.

The Brain is Impacted by Music

Here’s a favorite PYE phrase:

“What I Feed My Brain is What it Learns to Love.”

In other words, for all its complexity, the adolescent brain pays close attention to the neural pathways that are used most frequently. This includes the music we feed it. Research from Mayo Clinic that suggests that listening to or singing songs can provide emotional and behavioral benefits for people with Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia. “Musical memories are often preserved in Alzheimer’s disease because key brain areas linked to musical memory are relatively undamaged by the disease.”

How Do Streaming Music Apps Compare?

There are more streaming music apps than what we cover in this article, but we have hand-selected apps that seem to have the greatest use with our audience.

Amazon Music App Review

12+ Apple App Store Rating, T (Teen) Google Play Store Rating

Amazon’s pricing:

  • Prime Music: (2 million songs) FREE with Prime membership.
  • Amazon Music Unlimited: (60 million songs) $8.99 USD/month or $89 USD/year to play anything on-demand (if you’re a Prime member, $10.99/month without Prime).
  • Amazon Family Plan is $15.99 USD monthly for 6 separate accounts.
  • Single Device (Echo) Account: $4.99/month.

If you have Amazon Prime, you have access to Prime Music with 2 million songs, more than a thousand playlists and stations programmed by Amazon’s music experts, and thousands of podcasts.

To get access to more songs, you can subscribe to Amazon Music Unlimited to get access to 60 million songs per the pricing above.

Amazon Music Parental Controls:

  • Here’s Amazon’s article showing how to block explicit content in Amazon Music on all devices. Unfortunately, Amazon’s podcasts suffer from the same issues as Spotify, Apple, and Pandora. Explicit podcast content isn’t blocked/removed. You can read the description, you just can’t listen to the content.
  • Most families will consume Amazon’s streaming music through an Echo, Dot or Dot Kid’s Edition – read our detailed Echo review for how to control explicit content. Chris’ family (CEO), uses multiple Echo’s + Amazon Music Unlimited with his family. For tweens, using an Echo with parental controls enabled is a great testing ground to see how they handle an internet-ready device in their bedroom that can double as an alarm clock.

Apple Music App Review

4+ Apple App Store Rating, T (Teen) Google Play Store Rating

Apple’s pricing (60 million songs):

  • Voice (Single Device): $4.99/mo.
  • College Student: $5.99/mo.
  • Individual: $10.99/mo.
  • Family: $16.99/mo.

Apple Music Parental Controls:

  • Whether it’s an iPhone or Mac (running Catalina), controlling explicit content is quite easy using Screen Time parental controls.
  • For a MacBook (running Catalina): System Preferences > Screen Time > Content & Privacy Restrictions. From there, control whatever content you want (including explicit lyrics).
  • For an iOS device (iPhone, iPad): Settings [on your child’s device] > Screen Time > Content & Privacy Restrictions [set a 4-digit passcode] > Content Restrictions > Music, Podcasts & News > Clean

This is a true parental control because it sits behind a passcode wall. But here’s the problem – explicit content still shows up in search results with titles and descriptions. The only difference is that you just can’t click anything. This is true for music, stations, and podcasts.

Related post: iOS Parental Controls

For instructions regarding Apple Music on Android, read Apple’s support article.

Pandora App Review

12+ Apple App Store Rating, T (Teen) Google Play Store Rating

Pandora’s pricing:

  • Pandora Plus is $4.99/mo. or $54.89 USD/year to play anything on-demand.
  • Pandora Premium  is $9.99/mo. or $109.89 USD/year, unless you qualify for a Student ($4.99/mo) or a Military discount ($7.99/mo). The biggest difference from Plus is that you can listen to music offline.
  • Pandora Premium Family is $14.99/mo. or $164.89 annually.

Pandora Parental Controls:

Pandora is popular. But, it only filters explicit language on radio stations, and doesn’t block anything in podcasts. Even then, it’s not a parental control – kids can easily change the explicit music toggle in their account.

Here is an excerpt from Pandora’s own FAQ’s:

Something to keep in mind is that the Explicit Content filter removes explicit language only, and only for radio stations. Your stations may still play songs that encounter adult themes, situations, or suggestive album artwork, and on-demand content like albums, podcasts and playlists will not be filtered automatically.

This is a significant limitation, since on-demand content is the main purpose of buying a subscription to a music streaming service.

Spotify App Review

12+ Apple App Store Rating, T (Teen) Google Play Store Rating

Spotify Premium’s pricing:

  • Student: $5.99/mo. (which includes Hulu and Showtime)
  • Individual: $10.99/mo.
  • Duo (2 accounts): $14.99/mo.
  • Family (6 accounts): $14.99/mo.

Spotify Parental Controls:

Spotify is arguably the most popular streaming music app.

Blocking explicit content is explained very clearly on Spotify’s website. But, like Pandora, this toggle can be easily changed by whoever is logged in. The only exception is if you have a Spotify Family Account. As the account owner, you can disable explicit songs for specific family members on the account (similar to an iPhone Family Sharing account).

A significant limitation is that even with the “remove” explicit toggle activated, explicit playlists, short videos, and podcasts are still accessible. Remember the screen shot at the beginning? That was a Spotify search, even though “remove explicit content” was toggled on. Also, any searched or played title can be individually removed from Spotify’s “recently searched” or “recently played” history, which lets kids cover their tracks.

Spotify does make it easy to report songs that you think should be labeled as explicit by tapping the 3 dots next to the song

One perk to using Spotify is that it can be monitored by Bark on Android, iPhone, Kindle Fire, and Chromebook. Bark monitors your child’s recently played songs and podcasts and analyzes words for potential issues.

Bark Parental Controls
(Click/tap image to learn more)

Spotify Kids App Review

4+ Apple App Store Rating, E (Everyone) Google Play Store Rating

Spotify Kids pricing: it comes with the Premium Family subscription (6 accounts): $14.99/mo.

Spotify Kids Parental Controls:

FINALLY! A music streaming app designed with young ears in mind! Spotify Kids has more than 8,000 songs and 125+ playlists and has two age-based options (ages 0-6 or 5-12) for curated content.

The app has bedtime stories, top hits, suggested channels, and a searchable library. Account creation includes setting up a 4-digit code to get access to the “Grown Ups” section of the app. Here you will find the Listening History of each child. If you find a song that you don’t think is appropriate for your son or daughter, you just tap the block icon. To unblock the title, just tap that same icon again.

Streaming Music Parental Controls 2020

There are still a few PG-13+ titles and albums in the age 5-12 category, but it’s so much better than the other music streaming services. Back to what we said in the beginning – any really motivated kid will find what they want to find. This requires parents to stay involved.

YouTube Music Review

17+ Apple App Store Rating, T (Teen) Google Play Store Rating

YouTube Music pricing: one month free, then $9.99/mo.

YouTube Music Parental Controls:

If you have Restricted Mode set for YouTube, then YouTube Music will block all music with the explicit label. It’s far from perfect but it’s that simple. Unless you’re using a parental control solution to force Restricted Mode (like, for example, a Gryphon router), the Restricted Mode toggle can be easily turned off by any kid.

Restricted Mode also disables comments, which might be important for YouTube Music as they are testing a comment feature.

Gabb Music provides Clean Music!

In June 2022, Gabb Wireless released a clean, streaming music service. You can add the Gabb Music app to your existing Gabb Phone (Z2) or the new Gabb Phone Plus for a small, monthly charge. It’s “hits without the explicits” (their marketing line!). We participated in a call with Gabb when they rolled out this feature and it looks like a game changer.

Use code PYE (we’re affiliates) if you decide to purchase anything from Gabb. You can read more about Gabb Music on their website!

Streaming Music Apps Bottom Line

We have “winners” for two age groups:

  • Apple Music is the strongest solution for high school students because of the tie to Screen Time.
  • Spotify Kids or Gabb Music are the obvious choices for young kids and tweens.

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9 thoughts on “The Ultimate Guide to Streaming Music Apps (Including Podcasts)”

  1. My son recently turned 13 & asked to get Spotify, so now we are delving into a new layer. It’s baffling to me that none of these services offer an option to turn off album “art” as a parental control. Wish PYE could apply its expertise to making the apps you know we want! Love what you do!

  2. My big concern is podcasts and unlabeled content. There are lots of podcasts out there that would have been rated X in my youth. I wish there was a way to only allow content approved by the parent first.

  3. Your review covers & focuses on the Explicit labeled music, but what about all of the harmful content that does not use explicit language but talks about guns, school shootings, drugs.

    1. Hello! We are unfortunately “stuck” with 2 postures for labeling music – it’s either explicit or it’s not. There isn’t another rating system that we (PYE) or a music service can use in order to further filter music lyrics.


  4. Related to the topic of feeding the mind w/ audio content, we’ve struggled to find a decent MP3 player that doesn’t have internet or FM radio. Any recommendations or suggestions to allow us to be intentional about our kids’ music and audio “diet”?

  5. Hi PYE team –
    Just a comment about your information regarding Bark monitoring of Spotify:
    “Bark monitors your child’s recently played songs and podcasts and analyzes words for potential issues.”
    I just reached out to Bark to check specifically on their ability to monitor Spotify’s podcasts after my own ‘premium family account’ with explicit filter engaged and Bark monitoring was allowing access to some hard core audio porn and I was getting no notifications about it.
    Their support staff replied:
    “Currently, Bark only monitors your child’s recently played songs and analyzes lyrics for potential issues. Our algorithm does not monitor or analyze podcasts on Spotify unfortunately. Which is why no alerts were sent to you. ”
    Bark is a great service but we must be aware of their limitations, especially with such a rampant problem in Spotify’s library.

  6. this article isn’t exactly right on Apple Music. I have my daughter’s phone set to clean and if she looks up an explicit song it’s greyed out and she can’t play it. But if she clicks on the album, then ALL the songs are available to her, even the explicit ones. I’ve already emailed Apple about this. It’s a bug that has to be fixed.

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